FEROCITY UP THE CACHALOT 365
One of the reasons for the pursuit of the Sperm Whale is
the desire to obtain that extremely valuable; product ambergris.
This substance has long been known ; but its true nature was
for centuries in dispute. In Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (so
recently as the edition of 1818 .•} ambergris is provided with
alternative definitions ; it is either the excrement of birds washed
off rocks, or honeycombs that have fallen into the I
An old writer asserted of ambergris that it was ** not the scum
or excrement of the whale, but issues out of the root of a treo,
which tree, howsoever it stands on the land, alwaies shoots fortL
its roots towards the sea, seaking the warmth of it, thereby t<-
deliver the fattest gum that corns out of it, which tree other-
wise by its copious fatness might be burnt and destroyed/*
These " explanations " were caused by the fact that ambergris is
sometimes found floating in. the sea. Ambergris is, of course, it
product of the intestinal canal of the Sperm "Whale; it seems to
be of the nature of cholesterin, and its place of origin was con-
clusively proved by finding the beaks of cuttle-fish imbedded in
it. "When first extracted from the alimentary canal it is of
greasy feel and consistency; later it hardens, and. acquires its
characteristic sweet earthy odour. Ambergris is used mainly as
a vehicle for scents, and is a costly substance. A piece weighing
130 Ibs. was valued at £500. Though now entirely used in
connexion with perfumery, it was held by the ancients to be of
great value as a specific In certain diseases.
The Sperm Whale is chiefly a tropical animal Examples
that have been cast up on our shores are strayed Individuals. It
often goes about in herds, which seem to be composed of females.
Its food is chiefly cuttle-fishes, and it Is said to have a pre-
dilection, for those colossal cuttle-fishes whose existence has
until recently been doubted. Mr. Bullen has sketched a conflict
between these two giants of the deep. On the other hand it is
said that its large throat, more than big enough to swallow a man
(the Whale is credited with being that which swallowed Jonah),
does not usually admit fishes laxger than Bonitos and Albaeores.
The ferocity of the Cachalot has been denied and afllnned.
It certainly has great strength, for it can throw itself com-
pletely out of the water. Captain Seammon thinks that ships
which axe mysteriously lost at sea, with no obviously «aigaafele
cause, are sometimes the victims of the foxioixs rushes of m bull